Re-Envisioning the MLS: The Future Information Professionals

On Monday, May 4, the iSchool and the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland College Park held its capstone Re-Envisioning the MLS event at the MLK Library of the DC Public Library. Initiated in August 2014 by the iSchool and iPAC, the Re-Envisioning the MLS initiative seeks to answer the following questions, with the ultimate goal of a recast MLS degree program over three years:

  • What is the value of an MLS degree?
  • What does the future MLS degree look like?
  • What should the future MLS degree look like?
  • For what should the iSchool’s MLS prepare students (e.g., skills, careers, settings)?
  • What distinguishes the iSchool’s MLS program from other MLS degree programs?
  • What distinguishes our graduates from other MLS program graduates?—

More information regarding the goals of the initiative are available at: http://hackmls.umd.edu/. Details and archives for all our Re-Envisioning events are available at http://hackmls.umd.edu/?p=49.

The May 4 event focused on the Future of Library and Information Professionals, and included:

  • Sari Feldman (more information regarding Sari is available at http://hackmls.umd.edu/?p=23), ALA President-Elect, who delivered a keynote presentation on Keeping Pace: Recasting the Library Professional.
  • A panel (panelist bios are available at http://hackmls.umd.edu/?p=81) discussion of leading library and information professionals moderated by Sari Feldman that included
    • Stacey Aldrich, State Librarian, Hawaii
    • Priscille Dando, Coordinator, Library Information Services, Fairfax County Public Schools
    • Rachel Frick, Director of Business Development, Digital Public Library of America
    • Lucy Holman, Director, Langsdale Library, University of Baltimore
    • Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director, DC Public Library.

Highlights from Sari’s presentation included a recasting of our profession’s focus on materials and collections to the people and communities that we serve. Sari discussed how: 1) Libraries remain critical places where curiosity, exploration and knowledge meet inquiring minds; 2) Libraries are places of learning; and 3) Learning is transformational.

With this overview, Sari focused on how vital libraries are in three key areas moving forward:

  • Digital inclusion, which encompasses equitable access to Internet-connected devices and online content as well as the skills needed to take advantage of the educational, economic and social opportunities associated with technology. It also includes making available a range of digital materials, including ebooks, databases, and other content.
  • Content creation, which factors in the design digital environments that enable customers to create and build content. These might include maker spaces, design studios, self-publishing initiatives, and other innovations that facilitate content creation in and across a library’s community.
  • Privacy, which helps library communities understand the nature of the digital environment, open data, data analytics, library records, and other ways to educate consumers about their digital footprints — and lead discussions in the digital environment about privacy.

Following Sari’s presentation, the panel reacted to the following topics:

  • The top challenges facing libraries in the coming five years.
  • The top opportunities facing libraries in the coming five years.
  • Given the opportunities and challenges, the characteristics/traits of successful librarians/information professionals.
  • The essential skills for future librarians/information professionals.
  • The ideal future librarian.
  • The necessity of having an MLS to be a successful librarian.
  • The “musts” when making a hiring decision.
  • The future of professional associations (e.g., ALA, PLA).

As one might expect, reactions to these issues provoked a lively debate and discussion. The following section highlights only some of the key points:

  • One challenge identified by all was the growing inequality in our society. The gaps in socio-economics, education, literacy (basic, digital, financial, civics, and other), and others are becoming a key — and in some cases — only focus of library service. The disparities impact all library types — schools, public libraries, academic, and others.
  • A second challenge identified by panelists echoed a theme in Sari’s presentation — that libraries provide access to opportunity. How libraries continue to facilitate opportunity in a dynamic technology, demographic, learning, and information environment is a formidable challenge.
  • Opportunities abound, particularly in the area of entrepreneurship, innovation, content creation, and engagement. Panelists agreed with Sari’s recasting of our focus on the people and communities that we serve by meeting them where they are and helping them transform through learning.
  • Panelists discussed a range of competencies that librarians need, including a service orientation; a keen desire to work with the public; the ability to work with a very diverse set of populations who might have a range of cultural norms, abilities, and needs; a focus on transformation (community and people) and not transactions (materials, services use); and the ability to understand the implications of technology and content on the library and its community.
  • Competencies were key, but panelists indicated that “musts” when considering hiring included flexibility and adaptability; impromptu problem solving skills; a “yes” mindset; a desire to constantly learn; clear communication skills, and a willingness to “own” a space — that is take on leadership.
  • Panelists indicated that not all professional positions in a library need an MLS. There are any number of areas — instructional design, education, web development, curation of digital assets, and others — that cognate degrees would be appropriate. Panelists felt, however, that leadership positions in libraries should be filled by those with an MLS due to their understanding of the profession and its core values.

More details are available in the full archive of the session, found at  http://go.umd.edu/FeldmanMLS.

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  1. Pingback: One Year Later: Job Placement Report 2014 - iSchool MLS

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